If you look up the definition of villain in the dictionary, this is what you might find:
Villain [vil-uh-n] noun “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel.” dictionary.com
But what if you asked a villain to define him or herself?
They might tell you that they aren’t bad (they’re just drawn that way, to quote Jessica Rabbit), in fact, I would hazard to guess that every villain believes, to the depths of their soul, that they’re good. They are the hero of their own story.
The ‘so bad they’re good’ villains, truly believe what they’re doing is for the benefit of society.
And that’s what makes them so darn irresistible.
Take Loki, for instance. How can you hate him? He’s a foster child! He was raised alongside his older, blonder brother, treated as an equal, but never really measuring up to their father’s expectations. He’s not bad, he’s just misunderstood!
Riiiiight. Loki is bad to his core and he knows it, but he also knows that if given the chance, he’d rock that crown and be a darn good king. Or Allfather, or whatever it is he’d call himself.
It’s easy to love Thor. Those eyes, those biceps, that hammer!
But Loki? He’s dark and mysterious. He has secrets. He is, if you really think about it, a mythological modern day Christian Grey without the riding crop. He’s so messed up ladies (and some gentlemen), want to take him home and fix him. Because he’s worth saving, right?
Every villain is worth saving.
No matter how bad, or manipulative, or low-down rotten they are, every villain started out as an innocent child. Through society, or family, or bad choices, they ended up on the wrong side of the hero. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find their way back to goodness. Or so we’d like to think.
Just like Luke Skywalker, we have to believe there is good inside every Darth Vader we encounter. That’s why good girls fall for the bad boys. It’s why we cheer for the villain.
Take Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. Oh. My. Villain.
Every look, every word uttered from his lips was an invitation to hate him, but I couldn’t. He was too damaged, too full of his own moral indignation. I actually hoped at the end of the movie that he’d open that pod and escape just so I could see him again.
That’s what a villain should do ~ capture our hearts as completely as the hero has. The villain needs to be equally as important to the story as the hero, or where’s the conflict? A boring villain is too easy for the hero.
What if your villain is a self, cruel, manipulator? Can you still love them?
Yes. As long as they truly believe in what they’re doing. In my Song of the Swords series, Zakael is a villain I love to hate. He uses people, drinks their blood (no, he’s not a vampire, just twisted that way), doesn’t hesitate to take what he wants, and has some disturbing ideas about sex, but underneath is pain and cruelty, he believes he’s what his world needs. And he thinks the heroine is his perfect match, which causes some problems for her and the hero, as you can imagine.
Zakael’s motives are similar to the heroine’s in that he wants to bring peace to his world. But he understands that to do so means he has to kill a few people, starting with his father, who wants to sacrifice the heroine to a mad god. Achievement justified. At least to Zakael. I’m sure his father would disagree, but he has his own problems and issues…
Villains are complex characters that can’t just be bad for sake of plot. They need to be justifiably bad. They have to own their decisions and believe in what they’re own goodness as they interpret it, not how society defines good versus evil. That belief in themselves as the hero of their own story is what makes them remarkable, and memorable.
And ultimately, Irresistible.
Now it’s your turn. Who is your favorite literary villain? Film villain? Do you prefer the heroes or villains in a story? Why? Share with us! We’d love to know.
Some say she’s the one of prophecy,
that she’ll bring balance to the world.
Others say she’s the destroyer,
meant to bring an end to Aelinae.
They’re both right.
Everything Taryn knew was a lie. Her life on Earth, the man she thought was her grandfather, even her age, were all fabrications meant to protect her, to keep her hidden until she could return to her home world. Once on Aelinae, Taryn realizes she has more to fear than the creeping darkness that threatens to suffocate her.
Unwilling to become a pawn in the machinations of her scheming family and the world she now calls home, Taryn sets out to learn about her mysterious powers. Reluctantly, she accepts the help of Rhoane, a man who promises to protect her, but whom she’s not sure she can trust.
As tensions mount and her loved ones are threatened, Taryn must confront an ancient enemy and stop a sinister plan to bring back a banished god.
On Aelinae they say there can be no Light without Dark and no darkness without light. If Taryn fails, there will be only Blackness. Absolute. Binding. Without end.
Failure is simply not an option.
Tameri Etherton Bio:
Rocker of sparkly tiaras, friend of dragons, and lover of all things sexy, Tameri Etherton leaves a trail of glitter in her wake as she creates and conquers new worlds and the villains who inhabit them. When not masquerading as a mom and writer, rumor has it she travels to far off places, drinking tea and finding inspiration for her kickass heroines—and the rogues who steal their hearts—with her own Prince Charming by her side.
Social Media Links: